Military Family Leave for Veterans’ Families Can Cause Staffing Dilemmas

If you’re a small business owner subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you may be affected by the expansion of military family leave to include family caregivers of veterans.

In 2008, the FMLA was expanded to provide job-protected military family leave. Part of this required leave directed employers with 50 or more employees to allow up to 26 weeks of leave during a 12-month period for the spouse, child, parent, or next of kin to care for an active service member in the National Guard, Reserves, or Armed Forces who incurred a serious injury or illness in the line of duty.
The FY 2010 National Defense Authorization Act expanded the military personnel whose family would be eligible for caregiver leave to include veterans, and rules recently proposed by the Department of Labor are implementing these changes.
Caregiver Leave Rules
  • If you are subject to the caregiver leave rules, your obligation to allow time-off includes families of veterans who need care for serious injuries or illnesses. 
  • You should also be aware of the following provisions: 
  • An employee’s eligibility for leave covers serious injuries and illness for up to five years after the veteran leaves the military. 
  • Conditions that arise after a veteran leaves military service are included in the conditions that require you to grant leave to a family member. 
  • The definition of serious injury or illness includes those incurred in the line of duty resulting from pre-existing conditions. 
The Effect on Your Business
It’s not difficult to picture how the expansion of the military family leave law to include veterans, coupled with the fact that employees’ leave eligibility can continue for up to five years after the veteran’s military service is completed, can create a staffing issue for small businesses.

While recognizing and appreciating the service of veterans and the need for family to provide care for serious health matters—not to mention complying with the law—you’re trying to run a business. And while you can’t predict the future, you can prepare for it, particularly if you learn enough about your employees to know that they have family members currently serving in the military or who are recent veterans.

Here are a couple of steps you can take now to avoid staffing snafus:

  • Train employees to cover more than one position: Then after training, allow these employees to spend some actual work time in those new positions. In the long run, your business may discover employees’ hidden talents while employee motivation—and, in turn, productivity—increases. 
  • Think about lining up some short-term labor sources: Maybe you already have a go-to source for labor during your busy season or independent contractors you use for certain tasks. If you don’t, now is the time to act. When using a temp agency, an intern or even a family member as your staffing solution, if possible, try out him or her before you need the help. That way, if one solution doesn’t work for your business, you still have time to try an alternative without the pressure of having to fill a spot. 
  • By anticipating your staffing needs, not only can you comply with the law and respect the needs of those who have served their country, but also solve potential workforce issues and perhaps even increase worker morale and productivity. 

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